DUALITY


duality“I walk on for a while and reach a round sort of clearing. Surrounded by tall trees, it looks like the bottom of a gigantic well. Sunlight shoots down through the branches like a spotlight illuminating the grounds at my feet. The place feels special, somehow. I sit down in the sunlight and let the faint warmth wash over me, taking out a chocolate bar from my pocket and enjoying the sweet taste. Realizing all over again how important sunlight is to human beings, I appreciate each second of that precious light. The intense loneliness and helplessness I felt under those millions of stars has vanished. But as time passes, the sun’s angle shifts and light disappears. I stand up and retrace the path back to the cabin.”  – Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

After spending nearly half a century in this life, I still marvel at the duality that occurs before me each and every day. The darkness that gives way to light, the silver linings that provide a sugar coating to even the most acerbic morsels. It is the yin and yang that provides some sort of karmic balance to life – the rushing in and recession of the tides, the endings that lead to beginnings balancing out the beginnings that ungratefully lead to endings.

And, while I know this duality appears before me daily, it is only on rare occasions that I stop to take notice. It is like a gentle tap on my shoulder reminding me to pay attention, letting me know that an important plot point is about to revealed. A gentle nudge as I doze off in the classroom that is my life, reminding me to take note for this will be on the final exam. This week, I was jolted awake as I sat on an airplane heading out on yet another journey. As I leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes to rest for a few moments as I normally do when the plane is racing down the runway, pushing the engines to launch the giant tin can into the air, I was reminded of the significance of the day. That day was my mother’s birthday. My mother, who has been dead for 2 years now.  Or, is it 3? I have lost count.  I could probably stop for a moment and try to remember if it was 2012 or 2013 when she finally departed but the time elapsed is meaningless. For, I did not mark the months with remembrances. I did not light a candle each year. I did not grieve as so many of my friends have, deeply mourning the loss of their beloved moms. Their supporters, their nurturers, the presidents of their fan clubs, their best friends. I don’t recall exactly which day she died and I was not there with her when she took her last breath. I did not go through the rite of passage that children are meant to experience when their parents take their journey to next life. I did not hold her hand or stroke her brow, reminding her how much I loved her or how we would all go on without her, missing her every day and feeling the void of her presence. I have no idea what the end of my mother’s life was like. I don’t know what she looked like, I don’t know if she suffered or passed with ease, relieved to have unburdened herself of the weight that she carried so deeply inside her. I don’t know if anyone stood by her side or if she drifted off alone and bewildered. And, frankly, I don’t care.

My mother’s birthday is also the day my oldest son was conceived. I know this because he was conceived at a fertility clinic. I remember the day, back in 2000, when I lay in the darkened room, after having been inseminated turkey-baster style, laying with my knees in the air for the suggested 30 minutes in hope that just one of my husband’s sperm would find its way to my lone egg that sat alone, hoping for some attention. Despite the efforts to pump up my hormones that would generate many follicles from which many eggs would spring, I produced one and my doctors, in their reassuring way, left me with the optimistic hope of “there’s always next month.” But, always the overachiever, I would not fail. I was confident that my solitary egg would find its partner and we would produce a healthy bundle of joy. And we did. And it all began on my mother’s birthday.

My mother died just days before her birthday. She never was honest about what year she was born so I suspect she was around 82 or 83 or 84, or something like that, when she died.  I can’t remember the last birthday I celebrated with her but it was a long time before her departure. My mother left me emotionally and spiritually long before her body ceased to function. My mother forced me to remove her from my life to finally escape a lifetime of mental and emotional abuse. I believed that the day I shut that door for the last time, even though I may not have realized it had been closed for good, that I was releasing the toxins from my body. It felt like the beginning of the journey to recovery and that I was providing myself with the space and freedom to explore my pain and heal myself. I don’t remember how many years ago that was anymore. I try not to think about it. I suppose, as survivors, we are supposed to have psychic calendar notations that are engraved in our minds but, for me – someone who memorializes everything – these dates are fuzzy. The ink has bled and I can no longer make out the dates or the numbers. I simply don’t want to mark the passing of time. I guess I just don’t want to preserve them with the same significance as I do the milestones of my or my children’s lives. I want them to be erased over time. I want them to cease to exist. Perhaps this way it might all be less real.

It is not at all ironic to me that my motherhood began on my mother’s birthday. In fact, it is symbolically appropriate. It is the duality of my life. The beginning of this new chapter, the creation of my first child, was the denouncement of my victimization by my mother. It made sense. I would never forget the day and the two would be inextricably intertwined. Because they are and they should be. While my own mother tortured me, motherhood freed me. Motherhood saved me from my mother. Motherhood, over time, reaffirmed what, deep inside, I always knew to be true. Children are not supposed to be treated the way I was. I deserved to be loved and nurtured and cared for and respected and adored and cherished and encouraged to reach my full potential. I was not meant to be demeaned and demoralized and undermined and sideswiped and beaten and marginalized and penalized and tormented and hurt. I needed to see for myself that the natural order of things was that parents love their children – no matter what. I had to experience, first hand, that it is not a natural occurrence that, with frustration and anxiety, comes abuse. I could not survive unless I realized that I would not be the monster that I experienced my own mother to be. And my son, conceived on that cold day in February in Millburn, NJ, the same day my mother enjoyed another spin around the sun, and then my other son just three short years later, liberated me from the fear that I could never break the cycle of abuse and that perhaps, in fact, I deserved just what I got.

After my flight that morning was reaching cruising altitude, I opened my eyes and took a deep breath.  The realization that today was that day, the mother of all dualities, I stopped thinking and decided to turn on my iPad an enjoy the remainder of my short flight listening to an audiobook. I had been waiting to listen to Not My Father’s Son by one of my favorite actors, Alan Cumming. There had been a resistance in me to start the book because I knew enough about the story to feel a sense of dread. Alan was telling his own story of abuse. He was sharing the outcomes of his journey towards healing and, without question, I knew I would experience disruption and dismay. But, today, it made sense. Today was the day that I needed to take this on. Sometimes you just know. It seemed fitting.

February is now this odd month for me. As a child, I worshipped my mother. I would lay by her feet and love on her endlessly. I would spend my weekends sitting in our kitchen, in our little row house in Queens, playing Rummy 500 with her. She never let me win but I didn’t care. I treasured those hours because she was peaceful and we were together, far away from the yelling and screaming, the hitting, the painful words, the outbursts, the overdosing. Those afternoons were quiet and calm and predictable and reassuring, filled with hope that my mommy really loved me and would soon stop being so angry with me. Every year I waited with anticipation for her birthday because I wanted to shower her with cards and gifts to show her how much I loved her. I felt certain that if I made her feel special that she would reciprocate, returning my affection with kindness of her own. But, just two days after her birthday was my parents’ wedding anniversary – a day that ultimately left my mother filled with sadness after she and my father divorced. It was a constant reminder to her of failure and loss and it often overshadowed the joyousness of her special day. And, like a sponge, I absorbed her duality and struggled to balance her yin and yang. I adopted her pain as my own. And February became a month of quiet conflict. Atop the normal mountain of malaise that many of experience in the period that lay between the holidays and the first chirpy songs of birds signifying the onset of spring, I navigated my own way through the murky waters of my mother’s disdain and disappointment. I fought her battle. And she never shielded me from the shrapnel that pierced my skin after each and every explosion.

I finished the book before I landed on my return flight home the following night. I couldn’t stop listening.  In the gym, I lost myself in his story, so different in his homeland of Scotland than mine in New York, far across the pond. Yet, his words resonated with me. I felt the pain as he shared every blow he endured from his father who battled his own demons, releasing onto his children the pain that he could not process. On the plane ride home, I stared out the window, holding back deep sobs as I listened to him recount his indignities, recognizing, perhaps for the first time, that I was not alone. Hearing him describe his deep wounds, I instinctively felt my own scars and they nearly ripped apart, revealing the gaping holes that still lie opened inside of me.

The duality this week began benignly – almost with a hint of joy. The reminder of that day I sat in the darkened room filled me with joy. Seemingly a lifetime ago before I understood the restorative power that motherhood would offer me. Before I laid eyes on the beautiful boy who would grow into a tall, handsome young adult, all attitude and confidence and humor mixed with the expected level of obnoxiousness we have come to expect from teenagers. Before I understood that I was not meant to live inside a prison forever and would be set free to experience the euphoria of unconditional love towards and from my own children. As a child who grew up feeling alone and out-of-place, never truly belonging to a family or having an assigned seat at the table, the luxuriousness of looking at my children and knowing they were mine and I was theirs – that we were a family, with bonds that need not be broken – cascaded me into a sense of peace and serenity that never seemed a reality when looking at my life from the other side. The counterbalance of that day – the marking of my mother’s birthday also seemed benign as I have healed so many wounds and have forgiven her for all that she took from me and all that pain she bestowed upon me that was never meant to be mine. Yet, unbeknownst to me, this year, the duality would be marked differently. There are no coincidences and no accidents. Life takes us places that we sometimes don’t want to go and forces us, often begrudgingly, to accept those things we would rather ignore or reject. The duality for me this year was not the lightness and dark or the beginning and end. This year, the duality was the denial and acceptance.

I have accepted so much about the pain I have endured in my life and I have learned to nurture myself in replacement. Through no choice of my own, I became extremely proficient at tending to my needs and ensuring that I was able to move from one day to the next, as best I possibly could. I learned, regrettably, that I would have to care for myself because there was not going to be anyone else around who would take on that responsibility. For as far back as my memory will allow me to go, it has been me – all alone in the world – navigating the pathways and hoping for a positive outcome. That, in itself, has its own duality for it has made me strong and it has caused weakness in my foundation. I am closed and withdrawn at times, protective and defensive, fearful of intimacy that might cause me to drop my guard and stop protecting my fortress of solitude. And I have resilience and strength and power that allows me to sit on the front lines, sipping a cocktail and awaiting the next round of fire with ease and assurance that my line is protected. Yet, while I have accepted my fate and processed through the pain and disappointment of never having had the opportunity to be loved in a way that was my birthright, I have also spent a great deal of my life in denial. I struggle to accept how deep my wounds are, how painful the burn is, how limiting my existence can be. I force myself to look away when I am confronted with the loneliness and alienation and abandonment that resulted from ongoing and erosive abuse. Being told I am worthless and not a good enough person to be loved again and again finally sinks into your cells and it becomes part of your hard-wiring that no amount of therapy or medication or restorative affection can ever heal. Never having felt the safety and security that allows a child to mature into adulthood and endure the obstacles that are assuredly blocking your path with dignity and grace, creates a perpetuating stream of anxiety and self-loathing that requires a virtual exorcism to eradicate. One that I have yet to perform. By the end of that flight, after the last word was read and I was left to ponder my own experience, I knew, of course, the timing was pre-determined and the context was appropriately set. The scabs needed to be ripped off and I was meant to be catapulted back into space. It was time to embark on the next leg of this mission.

I am alone and I am frightened and, at the same time, I am secure in my ability to navigate my course. I hope that there is a day, some day in February in some year before me that I will look back and remember the day that I started to stop feeling so isolated and solitary and overwhelmed and insecure. And, I know that it may never be that way. For it is, perhaps, my destiny to live this life and endure these struggles for a purpose far greater than I will ever know. And the duality of my life is to enjoy the beauty that lies right beside the pain.

HERE’S HOW THIS GOES


dont be ashamed

Here’s how this goes.

When you grow up with abuse, the world does not look the same. The lens through which you view is clouded and cracked. Your perception is warped from the damage inflicted, from the weight of the pressure forced against you as you try to navigate through the murky, shark-infested waters, low on oxygen with low visibility.

When you grow up with abuse, you are forever damaged. No matter how much you heal, never will you feel quite right.  Never will you stand as tall. Never will your feet be firmly planted in the soil because you’ve learned to stay loose so when you are pulled out from your roots, the blow is less intense. When you’re already wobbly, the disruption feels less volcanic. It becomes the steady flow of your life.

When you are abused, you fall down again and again. Then you get up again and again. And each time you start to rise, you shudder as you prepare with anticipation for the inevitable onslaught so you recoil.

When you are abused, your pain is so deep that, after a while, you become numb and you forget you feel it. Until, so abruptly, someone rips at your scabs and you are startled back into reality. When you have forgotten to pay attention because you focus your energy on assimilation – trying to blend in so no one can see your wounds, your scars, your ugly scabs. Your brain is trained on looking normal. The blood flow is targeted to only one spot so that when the cleaver comes down and makes contact with your flesh, you are shaken, reminding you instantly who you really are and where you come from.

When we are abused, we wear a cloak of invisibility. We hide behind our fear and hurt and make it look like we are strong. We are actors, worthy of honors for our portrayals of functioning adults. We have read the script, we know our lines but when we trip over our mark, we fall face first and the pain is unimaginable. We scream so loud yet it is heard only within ourselves. Only those who can receive the frequency that we transmit can hear us. Only those who know the hallmarks can see us. We look like we are standing up and brushing ourselves off yet we are imploding, collapsing so deep within ourselves that no one notices until we turn to dust.

When we are abused, we turn against ourselves. We learn to abuse ourselves. We perpetuate the crime again and again. We hurt ourselves physically, emotionally, deeply, powerfully, irrevocably. We carry on the trade, perfecting our craft. We look in the mirror and set our sights on our target. We see the ugliness and shame, all fertile ground to make our mark. We remember the words, the slashes, the burns. We remember, even as it quiets down, after decades of healing, after the skin has grown over, leaving only the slightest reminder of what came before. Yet we remember, in our cells. We carry it deep within ourselves, reminding ourselves, reluctantly, begrudgingly, to never forget.

When we are abused, we close our eyes each day, trying to imagine a different life, a different outcome, a different reality. We try to put behind us the sadness, the disappointment in an effort to love ourselves and stop the torture. We cover our faces, wear our masks, don our costumes, practice our speeches, internalize our message. We beg and plead with ourselves to move beyond, move past, move away from the pain. Sometimes we break ties. Sometimes we forgive. Sometimes we suffer silently, never uttering our truth. Sometimes we shield our eyes and pretend it is all ok. Until it is not.

When we are abused, we look like everyone else on the outside. We won’t be picked out of a crowd. We are professionals. We are leaders. We are influencers. And we are broken. We never achieve in the same way for we are always filling, compensating, working around, making good, fixing up, repairing, struggling, crawling through the mud to find our way to peace. An elusive peace that we fear will never come.

When we are abused, we are alone. No one can fill the void, share our space, hold our hearts. We have a protective shell that builds up over time, gaining thickness and density becoming harder and harder to crack. It is clear and transparent so impossible to see unless you know what to look for. Unless, perhaps, you wear one yourself.

When we are abused, we struggle to help the others. The ones we can see who live our truth. We are often kind and helpful, while still needy and selfish. We atone for ourselves by attempting to heal others while we continue to persevere, turning on ourselves again and again. We are loyal and bountiful with others while we betray and withhold from ourselves. We outsource our tenderness, hoping others can bridge the gap we create when we punish and berate ourselves, desperately seeking to escape the fear and hopelessness that are tattooed on our flesh. It seems like we will never get off the ride that loops around and around, flashing visions of optimism that ultimately disappear into the distance when we return to the start and the gate never opens.

When you grow up with abuse, you are just like me. Trying to make your way in the world and struggling to find the peace of mind to ease your burden. You love with everything you have, praying that your heart won’t be ripped to shreds once again. You trust too easily, wishing that this will be the one who will not let you down. You are hopeful that tomorrow will make the crushing pain subside and your ache will dull and you will feel your lungs fill with the fresh air of promise. You smile and assure everyone that you are ok. For this is not their burden. This is not their puzzle to solve. This is not their cross to bear. You cannot be their trouble.

When you grow up with abuse, you travel the road of life on a very different path that looks awfully like the path of others except there are demons. Demons who show themselves to you. Demons who you shield your eyes from and hope will disappear before you open them once again. Demons who look just like you.

When you grow up with abuse, you are a silent sufferer for even you cannot understand how the people who are meant to love you most and provide you with the foundation for your future, so selfishly and heartlessly rip up the ground beneath you, carelessly watching you fall through the floor, crashing down cut and bruised and watch without a speck of remorse.

When you grow up with abuse, you feel like you are at fault. You never truly grow up. You never fully heal but you will try. By God, you will try. Every single day of your life until your journey ends.

When we grow up with abuse, we must tell our stories. We must remind the world that we exist and remind them that no matter how good we look on the outside, we are suffering on the inside. We must shed the shame and learn to survive.

RESTORATION


mosaic babySometimes, putting your past behind you is not as easy as it seems.

Sometimes, just when you think you have placed it back on the shelf, tucked away safely in a box, it comes to life, pushing itself out, forcing open the lid, jumping out in front of you.  All while you were looking the other way.

The other night, I was having dinner with my business partners while in Boston for a few days of business meetings. We were taking a respite from long days of planning meetings, financial discussions, strategy sessions and all the hard work that goes along with birthing a company. We needed a break and some time to interact with each other as friends. It was a little maintenance.

Many of our meetings recently have been with those who have walked before us – brave souls who took the leap into entrepreneurship, put everything on the line, worked day and night and then, miraculously, reaped big rewards. These are the success stories that catapult you forward. They inspire you to believe that you can do this. That there is a chance that you can succeed. These are the role models and advisors that force you into the arena and encourage you to brave it all. Without them, it is hard to navigate this obstacle course. In fact, the evening prior to our little team dinner we had met with one of those brave souls whose life was changed from his venture. He made many millions of dollars and managed to retire from his corporate life in technology to spend his time dabbling in real estate on Cape Cod. It’s a dream story.

At dinner that evening, one of my partners was sharing more stories of this friend who had hit it big and talked about how he celebrated his victory. While telling the story, my partner wistfully began sharing his own visions of what life might be like if we have a successful outcome. And then my other partner chimed in. One told of how he would take his extended family to Hawaii because his father always wanted to go there. The other shared ways in which he would provide his large, extended family with security and stability. And then they looked at me. They smiled and waited expectantly for me to talk about the dreams that motivate me. They looked for me to share the ideal that propels me forward each day. I was meant to discuss the place that I go when thinking about why I put in all the hours each day, struggle through the uphill battles to create something out of nothing.

But, I had long ago tuned out of this conversation. Because, for me, there are no dreams like that. For me, it is always about survival. I just want to survive. And, for me, the success is to survive more easily. There are no dreams of big family vacations or summer houses or leaving a legacy for my parents or siblings. There is no extended family to share my success with. There is no one rooting me beyond my little family of four. For me, I celebrate when I’ve made it through one more day, one more week, one more year without slipping into darkness. My legacy will be to not perpetuate abuse.

It was difficult to share with my partners – two men who come from robust families rooted in love and strong values – that I did not have such visions in my mind. “What motivates you forward?” was the question my partners asked. And, meekly, shamefully, painfully, I admitted that all I could ever think about is getting to tomorrow. Watching their twisted, pained faces reminded me of what I had managed to tuck away and forget: I am a child of abuse.

Sometimes I forget where I come from. I have managed to create a life for myself that resembles one of normalcy. You have to look really close – pull out your magnifying glass – to see the deep wounds that have settled in under my skin. The scars are barely visible but they certainly know how to erupt out of my skin at the most inopportune times. Like many other abuse survivors, I have constructed a world that allows me to operate at a high level, dodging the triggers that may set off the landmines that are scattered around, buried just deeply enough that I rarely see the tripwire laying beneath my feet. From the outside, most people have no idea of the gyrations that occur each day to allow me to function. In fact, most days even I don’t see them. It is second nature. It is reality. It is normal.

Until those days that I am reminded that I am not like everyone else. And the bomb goes off. Just like that – “boom” and I am hurled backwards, flat on my back, covered in debris and I pray that I can dust myself off and get back up again.

During the discussion the other night, I excused myself to use the ladies’ room. I needed to get away from the table because I couldn’t breathe. Their innocent question was like an assault rifle in my face. I could feel the cold metal tip pressing into my flesh and I tightened up awaiting the blast to come from the barrel that would blow me to pieces. I quickly walked to the back of the restaurant, scurried into a stall, sat down and sobbed. I was blindsided as I often am. I never see it coming. I get lulled into complacency and forget that I need to be aware of the perils that often lay before me. And, like this night, they seem innocuous. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Of course, my partners were delightfully bantering about their hopes and dreams and could never imagine that a conversation like this would induce anything less than positive chatter. Of course not. They have not been abused. And that recognition left me feeling isolated. I could not help but see, in bright neon lights, the message that I am different. My eyes see something so radically different. My brain functions with a different operating system. And, no matter how I try to engage, I cannot escape my reality. Nor, probably, should I.

Later that evening, after succumbing to the pain when the bullets sliced through me. As I bled out, back in my hotel room, I tried to make some sense of my feelings. After all, it has been a long time since I’ve fallen back into that space. It has been months since I found myself flying in this cockpit. I had reframed it all for myself, acknowledging that my reality today is so different from where I came from. All of my abusers are dead or have been forcibly removed from my life. I am living in a safe space, protected from the ghosts of my past. As I thought through the reaction that even surprised me, I could not escape the painful reality that no matter how hard I try to paint over the ugliness, no matter how many different ways I attempt to rewrite this story, I cannot erase it. I cannot undo what was done. I cannot unknow what I know. Every experience in my life is coupled with my past because I am always a part of it. I cannot untether myself from myself. I cannot selectively slice out the cancer for it long ago spread into all of my cells.  And, while it might lie in remission, it is always there and there is always the possibility that the disease will flare up.

I sat in my hotel room and mourned for that little girl once again. The little girl whose light was so abruptly dimmed. The one who knew, without really knowing, that life was not going to be the same as all the others around her. The one who walked around shattered, holding herself together with scotch tape, hoping no one would notice that she was frequently coming apart. The adhesive has gotten stronger over the years but the glue still dries up and pieces fall off, needing to be mended.

Through my tears, I saw that little girl, so broken and sad and tried desperately to comfort her but, on this night, I was depleted. For no particular reason. The winds blew me down. I lost my footing and I stepped on the mine. I was blown to pieces and could not protect that little girl. I was weak and vulnerable and she peeked out, scared and alone. I could not rescue her. I could not shield her from the blast. I could only acknowledge her, sad that she has not been able to rest in peace.

It’s going to take some time to put the pieces back together. You see, mine is an intricately-woven mosaic. There is no blueprint for how it all sits together but, when firmly in place, it’s beautiful to look at.  As the tiles fall off and the cement below is bare, it looks battered and bruised and it is difficult to remember which pieces go where in order to restore it to its original beauty. For me, I need to, once again, process my truth. I need to take this new piece of information about myself and add it to my mosaic and find a place to put it so as not to disrupt the others. I need to gather up all that fell off and try to restore myself to perhaps an even more magnificent array. But, for now, I will contemplate my design. I will try to heal a bit before I get back to the work of restoration. I will conserve my energy and prepare for the marathon that lies ahead.

And, I will try to move beyond. I will try to adopt the thinking of my partners. Perhaps there is more for me than mere survival. Maybe I can envision a world that offers a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But first, I need to find the rainbow so I can climb on up.

THE MAN ON THE BUS


woman at the back of the busThere was the man on the bus.

Long before the train took us directly into Manhattan, the only way to get into the city from where I lived in New Jersey was to take the commuter bus.  It was a long haul going in during rush hour but, usually, I was able to find a seat.  Standing for an hour on a bouncy bus was never fun and I dreaded those days when my stop – one of the last before we hit the highway – yielded me no seat and I spent my travel time doing my best balancing act to keep myself upright without falling into one of my fellow commuters’ laps.

On this day, so long ago, I found a seat in the back.  It was a different bus this day.  Not the usual coach with just two seats on either side.  This one also had a bench row in the back and that was where I ended up.  Squeezed into the middle of the bench row in the very back, two people on either side of me.  It was a sunny day, but it had to have been late fall or winter because I was wearing a heavy coat.  I had layers of protection in between me and everyone else.

I was a young girl back then.  Newly married and in my late 20s.  I was still so naive and, despite my journey to that point, I was still in my infancy.  Just learning how to crawl and certainly not yet pulling myself up to stand.  On that day, in the back row bench seat of the bus, it took a while for me to realize that the creepy man in the trench coat sitting next to me with his arms crossed in front of him and his briefcase on his lap had subtly inched the fingers on his left hand towards my side.  We had been on the road for a little while before I felt the odd sensation of something brushing up against my torso, through the thick shield of woolen coat.  I delicately adjusted myself in my seat assuming it must have been me invading his space.  Trying hard not to be obvious, attempting to disappear into my own little area, I ever-so-slightly shifted my bottom millimeters to the right, hoping to cocoon myself inside my protective barrier.  Then I felt it again and I shuddered.  For as much as I had moved to the right, he extended his fingers just a little bit further in order to make contact with the outermost portion of my being.  I shifted again, this time less subtly, in hopes of indicating that I was aware of him invading my domain and encouraging him to return his hands to his own self.  But, he persisted.  There was no place for me to escape to and it would only be another few inches before I would be pushing against the person on my right side, committing a similar violation.

I had no voice.  Inside my head I panicked.  I knew this man was out of line and, as benign as his inappropriate little touch might be, I knew I was not supposed to let this happen.  I was supposed to stand up in the crowded bus and yell “pervert!”  Instead, I sat there quietly.  I allowed him to strum his fingers against my coat, like I was his instrument to play with.  I allowed him to breach my safety zone.  And, aside from my squirming, which I actually think he enjoyed, I made no effort to force him to leave me alone.  I had no words to vocalize my discomfort and, thereby, was incapable of making him stop.  I was paralyzed.

A battle was waging in my head as I kept telling myself to say something or do something but I simply did not have the courage.  Yes, he was creepy but certainly not dangerous.  We were on a packed bus so he could not overtly harm me.  I knew he was just trying to “cop a feel” but I could not understand why I was his target.

Did he see me coming from a mile away?

Did he know that I had been silenced long ago in the house I grew up in being an object of abuse every single day?

Did he know that I quietly acquiesced as I was scrutinized, scorned, cast aside, rejected, abandoned, humiliated, manipulated, demeaned?

Was I wearing a sign on my chest that indicated that I would not yell, I would not budge, I would never object?  I would simply sit there and take it?  I would allow him to do what he needed to do because I did not have enough self-confidence to stand up for myself?

It must have been like pheromones that radiated off of me.  I was a glass house.  You could see all my internal bruises so clearly.  If you had the right set of glasses, all you needed to do was take a look and you could find the perfect target.  She’s easy.  She’s broken.  She’ll take it.

After I don’t know how long, I finally, in the mousiest of voices whispered in his direction, “Excuse me…”  He knew I caught him.  He knew I was aware of what was happening.  And with my mild exclamation, he was validated.  She’s not going to fight back.  She’ll fuss a little but, ultimately, will comply.  He moved himself away for a moment and then continued, barely grazing his fingertips in my direction but I could feel it.  I knew he was there.  Now, I was terrified.  More because of my powerlessness than of his power over me.

When we finally arrived in Manhattan, I raced off the bus but kept looking back to see if the man was following me.  I suspected that he was not the type to try to inflict any major harm but, merely, a pervert looking for some illicit titillation.  He got what he needed for his morning commute.  I, on the other hand, was torn up inside.  I was ashamed both by my inability to stand up for myself and my continued belief that I was not worthy of more.  In some way, I felt I deserved it.  It was my lot in life.  I went into my office at work, shaken and disturbed, and told my boss what had happened.  I downplayed it as she sat across from me outraged and disgusted.  She worried about me.  She wanted to make sure I was ok.  She wanted to go back to the bus and beat this man to a bloody pulp.  She wanted to stand up for me when I was incapable of doing it for myself.

Then I had to go home and tell my husband.  I had to admit to him that I allowed this man to get near me.  That I did not get up and move to the front of the bus and tell the driver about the man who was inappropriately touching young women in the back.  I was humiliated that I had let him down too.  It was not just me that was violated.  I let someone get close to his wife.  I allowed his bride to be scorched just a little bit more.

It took months – maybe even longer – for me to feel safe and comfortable on the bus again.  Every man in a trench coat reminded me of the creep.  I felt vulnerable and scared and I hated myself  for not being stronger and advocating for myself.  I struggled to figure out how I would ever find the courage I needed to stand up to others.

Fast forward the clock 20 years.  I have not forgotten one detail of that day.  In my mental scrapbook, it has a page of its own despite the insignificance of the incident compared to so many other events of my life.  However, the symbolism of that moment, of that experience, of that trauma is great.  I was a child without a voice.  A girl without self-esteem.  A victim of myself and those around me.  I crawled from place to place, trying to learn how to walk, how to run.  I didn’t even know that I couldn’t walk.  I just felt the weight of myself dragging behind me.  The legs that didn’t work, the voice that couldn’t speak, the psyche fractured from continual wear and tear.

The good news?  That’s all changed.  That is not who I am today.  I walk upright.  I speak loudly.

I’m not sure when it all shifted for me.  I’m not sure when I found my voice.  Last year, though, I had a run-in with someone I consider to be a bully.  A grown-up who preys on others to act out their own demons.  Someone who lashes out because they are suffering so deeply inside. I can now spot these people from a distance.  They have a special color to them – an aura around them that is so clearly visible to me.  When this person engaged with me in what I believed to be a very confrontational way, something snapped inside me.  I could feel the usual build-up of tension and the typical absorption of it ready to come.  However, in this instance, instead of just taking it and then walking away to lick my wounds, I opened my mouth.  I screamed loud in their face.  I didn’t love the way I handled it but I felt proud of myself for standing up for ME.  I knew I was done taking it.  I knew that no one could inflict that kind of pain on me again.  Surely, long before that day last year that I snapped, I had found my courage, I had cleared my throat and heard myself speak.  But, that day, I worked out the kinks.  I took it for a test drive and it feel really, really good.

Usually, I like to try to find a silver lining to all of the most challenging experiences in my life.  Unfortunately, the man on the bus offered no silver lining.  It was merely a reinforcement of how broken, how damaged, how dismantled I was.  Today, I’d rip his head off and let everyone between New Jersey and New York City know what a creep he was but these are different times for me.  I store this memory in the bank with the others to remind me that I wasn’t always this person and that there are many struggling to find their own voice.  Maybe I can help them to locate theirs.

MAMA’S GIRL


mama's girl“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

I was probably about 8 or 9 when I realized that my mother was not like everyone else’s.  Despite her outward efforts to appear like a typical, loving mother, inside there was a broken circuit.  Neurons were not firing the right way.  Her brain was off.  You would never know to meet her.  She was so charming – all smiles and laughter.  She was effusive and energetic.  Everyone enjoyed her company and found her fun and engaging.  She strategically hid her disease.  She kept it tucked away for only the most special to witness and experience.  She wore her costume every day and, over time, as it began to wear around the edges, her true self would peek through.  She worked awfully hard to keep her cloak on for as long as she could but soon she would combust, flames burning around her and her protective garment would melt away and she would be the mother I knew.  The mother I understood.  The mother I loved.

It was a warm, sunny day as she sat in her plastic-strapped lawn chair in our postage stamp of a yard.  For the 1970’s, in Queens, we had a substantial chunk of ground to call our backyard but it was all concrete and chain link fence.  My father attempted to bring his Italian heritage to our land, grooming lovely flowers and plants but they were just window dressing to hide the ugly poured ground that encompassed our brick row house.  It was Mother’s Day and Spring was in full bloom.  I am not sure if my father was still with us at this point but, without question, my mother was the center of my life.  She was the sun, the earth, the moon, the stars, the planets, the galaxy.  I worshipped her.  I needed her.  I craved her love and approval.  And, yet, I knew, deep in my core, that I would never receive it.  But, like any overachiever, I set out to do whatever necessary to try to succeed.

Our house was one block off of the main boulevard in our town.  The street was riddled with all of my favorite haunts – the little novelty store where I bought my Hello Kitty trinkets, the candy store where I attempted to shoplift a grocery bag full of Barbie dolls when I was in kindergarten, Woolworth’s, the upscale stationery store where I would wander in to test out all of the fancy Cross pens.  My father used to carry a slim gold Cross pen in his shirt pocket or in his jacket and I coveted it, knowing I would be ridiculed if I dared to touch it.  Often, I would find it lying on the table and would scribble notes on scrap paper, feeling the sleek instrument in my small chubby hands.  During the summers, I would wander from store to store, window shopping, or looking for items to buy with my small savings that came from loose change I would find or random slips of cash from my father when he had been drinking and felt guilty about his disregard for me.  It was so easy for him to forget about me.  I came at the end of a long line of kids for him. He had his daughter and son from his first marriage – the ones he abandoned when he found out my mother was pregnant as a result of their illicit affair in the 1950’s.  He started a new family with his young mistress and sired my sister and then his precious son.  I was a late addition to the party.  A requirement for my mother after she suffered through stillborn twins the year before my birth.  I was a salve for her wounds.  A sacrifice to numb her pain.  She always told me how much I was wanted.  I was the chosen child while my sister was the accident.

I’m not sure how I understood this but it was always quite clear to me that my role was to please my mother and try to make her happy.  I was the ideal candidate – it was as if they bred me to absorb her pain and cleanse her soul.  I was open and welcoming, willing to endure anything she would throw my way.  I bravely stood before her as she screamed and yelled at me, calling me names, beating me with belts, spatulas – anything that would serve as a conduit allowing her internal demons to seep out and brand themselves into my skin.  She needed to transfer her torment and I was her sweet, sacrificial lamb.  I protected her fiercely, devotedly sat at her feet, ready and willing to accept whatever small treats she would toss my way.  I worked hard in school to make her proud, I towed the line, rarely talked back, kept myself entertained.  During the cold months, when it was just her and me in the house, we would sit for hours on the weekends playing Gin Rummy at our small kitchen table.  Later we would move on to Milles Bourne and I treasured these times.  She was peaceful, we were together – just the two of us in our cocoon.  I basked in her sunlight.  I was warmed by her attention.  I took my role seriously and I was determined to serve her well.  These moments gave me hope for success.  They made me believe I had a shot.

On this Mother’s Day when I was about 8 or 9, I saved all my loose change and gathered some dollar bills together so I could find the perfect present for my mother.  I loved buying gifts.  The ritual of searching for the perfect item, wrapping it in beautiful packaging and topping it with a bow was a joyous process.  I would hunt for the absolute perfect card and, in my youthful voice, using my limited vocabulary, I would share my love, my affection, my gratitude for the recipient.  “Love always and forever and ever” was my sign off.  I rarely actually said the words “I love you” nor did I hear them much but skirted around them using variations to express my eternal adoration.

For this gift, I spent hours wandering from store to store on Bell Blvd., searching for something that would be perfect.  The gift that would elicit a wide-eyed smile, ensuring that she felt the transfer of my love as she unwrapped my token.  My mother, a master artisan in bullshit, seemed to fail miserably when it came to masking her feelings in front of her children.  If she was dissatisfied with her gift, there would be no questioning it.  I never had to wonder if I was successful in my mission.  Her face would tell me everything I needed to know.  When I found the small jewelry box, with all its little drawers and secret compartments to hold her various baubles that lay strewn around her top dresser drawer, I knew I had discovered my bounty.  This was sure to make her day.  It would serve a purpose and showed that I was thoughtful.  It was not a meaningless bottle of perfume (which she would have certainly enjoyed) and it was more substantial than a potholder crafted in school or a mail holder built from stapled white paper plates.  This cost a good deal of money and was meant to hold her precious gems that my father regularly presented to her in exchange for her forgiveness after a drunken debacle or a bloody fight.

When she opened up the package, I knew I had hit my mark.  Her smile built slowly as she unwrapped the box and her eyes lit up as she inspected the jewelry box.  She exclaimed with joy how much she loved it and offered the gratuitous “You didn’t have to buy me this!”  I looked at my mother, sincerely and confidently, and said “Yes I did.”  She patiently stared back at me, awaiting my next words.  “If I didn’t, you would have been mad at me.”  I remember the moment like it was yesterday but I have long since lost any memory of what followed.  I have no idea how she reacted.  There is no recollection of surprise, dismay, disregard.  I spoke my words and, regardless of what followed, I knew that I spoke my truth and it was evident that I was now a participant in this game with her.

Years later, when I was a young adult in college, my mother would send me hate mail.  I would open my mailbox at school and find long white envelopes addressed only to “Palazzo” followed by my address.  The words were written in her trademark cursive.  Big, bold lettering, all curvy and bodacious.  Often, my friend Joe would be standing with me as I reached in to pull out the letters and he would steel himself for what he knew was coming.  My back would straighten up and I could feel the tension growing in the pit of my stomach.  There would be no letter of support, no check to provide me with some spending money, no lovely words to transmit her pride in my being the first and only of her children to attend a university.  When the seal was broken on the envelope, what emanated from under the flap was anger, hatred, venom.  Words intended to threaten me, shame me, to level the playing field because I decided to shut down the games.  I decided that I was no longer a willing participant.  I dared to abandon my role as her healer.  The rules of engagement had changed, without her permission, without her approval.  The letters came regularly – sometimes daily, sometimes weekly.  If it were today, it would be a daily onslaught of emails to remind me what a monster I was.  It would be a regular diatribe to continue the transference of her pain and she would have to be relentless about it because she would never have the satisfaction to ensure that I was suffering in her place.  She would never know how I received her hateful messages.  She would never have a glimpse into my soul to know if I had simply shut her out or if I was crippled by her venom.  If her child, her miracle, her required offspring was collapsing under the weight of her torture.  She was vigilant because she never got her answer.

Her words were first painful and then they became absurd.  It was the same message over and over.  For four years, I anxiously checked my mail, fearing and then dreading the attacks.  But, after a while, I became numb.  They were part of my life.  Just as my role as her salvation became normal and acceptable as a child, I knew that this was what she needed to do.  I hated it.  I resented her for it.  I prayed for her to stop and then I simply stopped caring.  I shut down.  If her goal was to get my attention, I became unwilling to bite.  If her intent was to hurt me, I found painkillers to dull the ache.  If her intention was to use me as her human punching bag to release all of her frustration and sadness, she was going to be disappointed because she had long ago knocked the stuffing out of me and I no longer had the solidity to withstand her blows.  I was done.  She kept writing those letters and later emails until months before she succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 82.  And, to me, they just became items to move into my junk mail.  They were tossed away or tucked into a special storage cabinet I built inside myself.  A place where all of that sickness, all of that sadness, all of that abuse could be locked away forever.

BLACK HOLES


black holeThere I stood, trembling on the crumbling edge of my sanity. The void that welled up within me bore full witness to the ever-darkening recesses of my mind. This strange amalgamation of confusion and profound emptiness churned endlessly as the pain of a wrecked life lurked close behind, taunting me to dive in headfirst. This indeed, was madness. – Unknown

There is a giant hole that resides inside me.  It is a black hole that swiftly sucks in, with vacuum force, its prey.  The hole sometimes seems satiated and quiets its rumbling so I cannot hear its typical beckoning call, a signal that all peace and harmony are to be disrupted.  A deep, echoing groan emanating from the recesses of my chest.  A cavity never to be filled.  A chasm difficult to cross.  When the black hole is summoning its force, all of my courage, confidence and contentment are the first to be obliterated.  What quickly follows is my balance, my strength and ultimately my sanity.  As the wind gusts pull my pieces into the black hole, I break apart and swiftly feel my components falling away.  The Bermuda Triangle of my heart, my soul, and my mind are threatening all that pass over.

Recently I have heard the stirrings of my black hole.  It has been hungry and discontent.  My efforts to appease it, cover it, traverse it, mask it or simply shut it away have failed.  I have fooled myself into believing that it was not really sucking the life out of me but that I was too tired or too overwhelmed to fight the familiar forces I could actually see from many miles away.  I pretended it was just a temporary moment, a minor disturbance.  Some drizzle on a sunny day.  A gust of wind with clear skies.  I could not admit that it was a tsunami, a hurricane, a tornado – all of epic proportions.  It was biblical and frogs were beginning to fall from the sky.

I have become incredibly adept at managing my problems.  I have a wealth of tools at my disposal to both diagnose and then repair any incident that comes along.  I’m even pretty skilled at multitasking.  I can take on a few at a time.  It is like a masterful juggling act with chain saws.  I can toss them in the air, catch them on their handles and never even fear a laceration.  Sometimes, though, my tools are simply not big enough, strong enough or the right options.  Those times, the chain saws land just a bit askew and my digits are flying off and blood and flesh are being sprayed in every direction.  It is those days that I curl up in a corner and lick my wounds.  I have no bandages.  There is no ointment.  And, if I am lucky, I might call for medical attention but, more than likely, I will watch the blood flow and pray that I don’t bleed out.

What comes from so many years of abuse and neglect is an incapability of knowing how to truly care for yourself.  My young life was always about doing whatever I needed to in order to make sure that I could keep the monster in the closet.  I was forever in survival mode.  There was never a period of rest where I could relax and appreciate my own efforts and I never had the luxury to consider what might be good for me.  What was the right choice was to endure, to maintain harmony, to be safe.  For the first twenty-one years of my life, my education was about  how to be a survivor and I missed all those fun classes on how to live.  I never had the option of taking electives in advocacy or self-indulgence.  I got my best grades in guilt, distrust and preservation.

I always expected that after a certain period of time (fill in the blank for the actual right amount of time) I would be able to move past this.  After all, I left the environment where the abuse was occurring and I cut the abuser out of my life.  I went to therapy, owned up to my problems and was seemingly on the road to recovery.  Or so I thought.  In fact, while I thought I was digging deep, all I even had access to were the readily available surface wounds -. the welts and the scars that were easy to find, obvious to the eye without the aid of a microscope or a surgical scope.  It was easy to identify what sat on the epidermis.  It was open and exposed.  No digging, no probing, no exploring.  It was all right there for me to behold.  Soon, though, the scabs healed over and it seemed like I might be all fixed up.  I could glance down now and then and be able to trace the lines that had faded into my skin to remember that there used to be something there.  There used to be pain but now the skin was soft and smooth once again.

That’s before I discovered the black hole.

The black hole is a bottomless pit.  It drains me.  It literally sucks the life out of me.  And, when it is in full force, I become weakened to the point that my head starts spinning, up becomes down, right becomes left and I worry that I am really truly wholly most definitely crazy.  My sanity is high on the feeding list for the black hole.  So, how do I manage the beast?  For sure, I cannot fill it or find a tarp to cover it so how do I ensure that it does cause me to literally implode?    The question that I ask myself is how much is enough to keep it satisfied so that it will not erupt, so hungry, so desperate that it eats me all in one giant bite.

My black hole is calling for me.  It is advising me that it is praying on my vulnerabilities.  It is reminding me that I am not some superhuman who can solve every problem that comes along for me and still have the strength and energy to solve everyone else’s.  It is warning me that if I do not begin to take care of myself,  if I do not start protecting that little girl inside me who still needs someone to watch over her, it will call on her next.  It is sending me all kinds of messages that it is black hole season on my self.  The forecast is for pain, torture and misery unless I choose to alter the weather pattern.  Only I have the ability to shift the direction of the winds, pushing the storm away and quieting the black hole, if only for a short time.  And, yet, I am weak.  Do I have the strength to pull this off?  Can I do it alone?  Will anyone even help me?  Will I do irreparable damage while fighting this that will cause me even greater pain?

How much is enough?  When will I be able to satisfy that black hole?  What do I need to do to ensure that it moves on and moves out of me?  I used to believe that by being honest and working hard towards healing that anything was possible.  I never understood the real hard work required for true recovery.  I thought I was better, stronger, more capable.  My shoulders are broad and I can carry the village along with me.  And, sometimes I do.  But, lately, I am realizing, with increasing fear and anxiety, that I am far less capable than I once thought.  My strength is simply not enough to ward off the demons.  I am no better than anyone else.  I am human.  I am broken.  I am in pain.  I suffer.  And I have every reason to keep moving forward to find the yellow brick road that leads me to Oz.  I have all the components of the life I have dreamed of.  I have lots of tools and lots of friends with tools.  I have a sharp mind and a strong soul.  I have a desire to persevere.  I am desperately needing to go beyond survival to serenity.  I know I can set my sights on it. I have a compass and a flashlight and a telescope all that fit into my backpack.

Now, where to begin?

THE HOUSE


house-of-cards“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.”  – Tennessee Williams

Growing up, my house felt very sad.  It never had the warmth and comfort of a home, at least not the way my young mind imagined a home to be.  The perfect house in my mind was, like many other kids my age, the house the Brady Bunch lived in.  When I used to play with Legos as a kid, I would try to build that house, playing out my fantasies of what it would be like to have Mike and Carol as parents with the large brood of kids to keep me entertained.  I would rebuild their kitchen, family room, the bedrooms with the Jack and Jill bathroom.  It was ideal.  My house, in contrast, always felt something like a museum because of my mother’s obsession with superficial cleanliness. Every Saturday morning, while my mother would be handling insurance claims at the doctor’s office where she worked, I would lay in my bed, welcoming the respite from the typical wake-up call of her barging into my room with her vacuum cleaner.  Up until the day I left for college, my mother insisted on cleaning my room because she did not believe I had the proper skills to make my bed or tidy up my clutter.  My room, like the rest of my mother’s house, was stiff and uncomfortable.  I was forbidden from sitting on my bed or messing up my room before bedtime.  I had a TV in my room and, after school, I would often sit on the floor to watch it in fear that I would be chastised for messing up the perfectly laid bedspread.  There was order everywhere, a stark contradiction to the abundant disorder that ran through the bloodstream of our lives.  I understood, from early on, that my mother’s OCD was a response to the deep level of chaos that surrounded her own life and, by extension, our lives.

When I started high school, my mother and I moved from the house I had been born and grown up in.  We were alone then, just her and I, and she wanted to release herself from the burdens of home ownership in exchange for a nice, low-maintenance condo.  While my mother feigned poverty, she managed to sell the house, buy a condo, decorate it with all new furnishings and create a new life for herself.  I was the only reminder of the life she was seemingly leaving behind in our little row house in Queens, NY.  It was that house that held some of my favorite and many of my worst memories.  It was in that house that my mother forced my brother to live in the cold garage that was attached to our basement, installing a dead-bolt on the door to ensure that he would not be able to enter the house without her permission.  He was not to be trusted, she insisted, and all her concerns were validated by the therapist who claimed “he has a con artist personality.”  My brother was a broken soul. He bore witness to the abuse my father so readily inflicted on my mother each and every time he downed a bottle of gin to drown his own pain.  My brother went from being a sweet precocious young boy, adoring and protective of his little sister, to an angry, hollow teen who could not handle school, sought refuge with the wrong kids, managed to impregnate his girlfriend at age 15 (with whom he consummated his love in that cold dark garage) and finally ran off to join the Navy before he properly secured a high school degree.  Starting when he was in elementary school, my mother would equally condemn him and make excuses for him, ultimately determining that he was unfixable.  His growing machismo, in an effort to take over the role of the man of the house after my father left, was an emulation of my father’s abusive behavior.  He was aggressive and my mother feared him so she locked him up like an animal at the zoo.  Her attempt to regain control was to marginalize and strip him of any dignity he might have had left.

We left our modest 3 bedroom house, the house where, in good times, I used to lay on the floor in the living room watching my favorite TV shows of the 70’s when my parents were still together.  The same house where I snuck into my mother’s room when she was sleeping to take money out of her wallet when I was a burgeoning adolescent in order to have money to buy clothes.  After my parents divorced, my mother insisted that she could no longer afford to provide these items for me and demanded that I work in order to have money to take care of myself.  Her belief was that 12, 13 or 14 was old enough to begin contributing to the household and, regardless of her financial state, I needed to learn to be responsible.  In rebellion, I would frequently tip toe into her bedroom and scour her dresser drawers in search of her latest hiding place for her wallet.  She figured out pretty quickly that $20 bills were disappearing from her wallet – big money in the 80’s.  She always seemed to have so many of them in her wallet that my young brain did not understand how she could possibly miss a few.  I stockpiled the money in my room as if I was building a nest egg in order to finance my escape from prison.  I did not have the good sense to save the money for college or to put it in a bank account.  This was war and I simply needed it for basic supplies.  I needed the money to buy clothes.  I needed the money to make sure that I could do the same things that all my friends were able to do – go out for pizza after school, attend field trips, buy little trinkets to make me feel happy.  I needed the money to feel normal.

My mother and I played this game for a long time.  She would find what she believed to be better and better hiding places and I would search that much more furiously to desperately secure that money.  In between my scavenger hunts my mother would call me a thief, being sure to strip me of any self-esteem I might have managed to develop along the way.  I was a low-life who stole money from her mother.  In contrast, when my 12 year-old son started middle school this year and began asking me for money to go into town with his friends on Friday afternoons, I revisited my financial pursuits as a teenager and imagined how different it might have been if my mother had simply opened her wallet for me and handed me some cash to allow me to live like a normal teen.  If my mother had not repeatedly reminded me that her depression-era immigrant parents never gave her money when she was a teen and, instead, looked to do better for her children than her parents had done, perhaps it all would have been different.  Perhaps I would not have grown up to believe that I was a derelict who took money from her own mother. Maybe I would not perceive myself to be a deviant who could not resist the temptation of all those $20 bills and the freedom that they represented in my immature mind.  My son, never worries about money.  He stockpiles the change he gets from the $20’s I dole out to him, never tapping into his supply before he comes back looking for a refill.  And he and I also play a little game with each other because I know where he keeps his wallet, packed tight with bills that he is saving for no apparent reason.  I pretend I do not know that he never dips into his bucket of money hiding under his bed and he never feels the need to sneak around the house in search of my wallet which typically lays unprotected in my purse in the kitchen every night.

The house we left also was the place that we had family bbqs when my father still lived at home and all the neighbors congregated in our yard, drinking and eating and having fun.  As I grew older and the house became quiet and we became isolated from my father’s gregarious Italian family, I longed for those days, wishing we could be a part of something again.  Year after year we moved further away from our connections to people because my mother became more angry and more depressed and could not find a way to assimilate with others.  Unless she had a boyfriend to raise her spirits, we would spend long stretches living our quiet, miserable life, barely speaking and separate from the rest of the world.

During the summers, I would set myself up in a lawn chair in the backyard and would read every book I could get my hands on.  In that yard of that house, I would escape to worlds that allowed me to imagine different realities.  In those books I learned what normal might be.  I learned how girls were supposed to be.  The volumes of Judy Blume novels that I absorbed helped me to understand some of the complexities of the pre-teen and teenage mind.  I found solace and solidarity.  I attempted to find acceptance.

In that house, that modest little house with its flat roof, cracked front steps, beautiful rose bushes, the house where I fell down the back steps and ended up with stitches, the house that should have held all of my precious childhood memories.  In that house, in between the crevices, I grew up and learned all about life.  In that house my life began and my life was stolen away.  Right there in that house.  The house I will treasure and the house I will long to forget.